Tag Archives: #adventure #adventuringheart #semesteratsea #enrichmentvoyage #SAS #bahamas #travel #professionaldevelopment

Travel vs. Tourism and Social Justice vs. Souvenirs

Author’s Note: I recently returned from the voyage of a lifetime. Along with my good friend and colleague Galina, we sailed with the Winter Enrichment Voyage through Semester at Sea.This combines travel, adventure, workshop speakers, relaxation, and more. Enrichment Voyages are billed as “Trips for intelligent people who like to have fun.” We traveled to eight countries, two oceans, two continents, experienced Christmas and New Year’s Eve with the Pacific breeze in our hair, and basically had the time of our lives! I blogged along the way while on board, but due to limited Internet connection, I’m posting them now so follow along and enjoy!

This post has been a long time coming. On the second day of the voyage, I watched an amazing workshop about the death of travel and the birth of tourism. The Dr. Tracy Ehlers asserted that travel as we once knew it is dead. It has been replaced with tourism. Tourism in the sense that you do indeed SEE the country in question, but it is through a protected pane of glass from your air-conditioned bus, or filtered through a savvy and well-trained bilingual tour guide. Since travel became more economical for middle- to upperclass families, the need for safety, security, and the sense of “getting the most for your money” has relegated us to sightseeing tours. To being shuffled from one monument or museum to the next so when you get home, you can boast to friends and family about the quantity of what you saw, but never the quality of the experience. As a result, members of the community in question need to cater to the tourist experience, sometimes out of convenience, but often more often about survival.

I really felt this come home for me while being a tourist in Guatemala. I am specifically using the term “tourist” versus being a “traveler” in Guatemala, because my experience started on an air-conditioned bus through the Guatemalan countryside. The views were spectacular. We saw coffee fields, sugar cane fields that were in the process of being burned (this is to get the poisonous snakes out so the workers can safely cut down the cane for harvest), plus a view of the Pacaya Volcano. This volcano is very active, and there was a plume of smoke and debris being shot out of the top when we passed by!

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Just an active volcano spitting out ash as we drove by. Pretty typical day.

Our trip really began when we arrived at Lake Atitlan. If you EVER have the opportunity to visit Guatemala in general, or specifically Lake Atitlan, DO IT. It was one of the most amazing, gorgeous, pristine, inspiring views I have ever seen. The Lake was created after a series of volcanic eruptions blew the top off of one volcano, and the Lake was created after centuries of being filled with rain water. The indigenous Mayans have lived around the lake and surrounding mountains for centuries and much of their culture is tied to access to fishing, fresh water, and other opportunities that living next to a bio diverse lake creates.

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ImageImageOne of the best days of the entire trip

We took an hour boat ride to the other side of the lake to a small town called San Tomas. The moment we stepped off the boat, we were inundated with local men and women pushing their wares on us. Most had enough English to ask you to buy, ask your name, tell you their name, and some went so far as to place wraps, shawls, jewelry, or other items on members of our group, as a sales tactic. It felt very aggressive, and continued throughout our half-mile walk throughout town to get to the restaurant where we were stopping for lunch. The entire path was crammed with vendors, children selling bracelets, men selling hand-carved masks or flutes, the list goes on. It became clear that marching tourists from the boat dock through these stalls was a common occurrence, and most likely resulted in much of the income the people of the town came to depend upon.

We had a lovely lunch, were marched back the way we came, and continued to be barraged by men, women, and children and their variety of products. We got back to the boat and then waited almost 45 minutes for one couple who thought the 1pm deadline didn’t apply to them. This was the moment that the tourism vs. travel and social justice vs. souvenirs became painfully clear to me. Since we were tied up to the dock and on the boat, the women of the town essentially had a captive audience. Several of them were even bold enough to climb on board and try to sell their items.

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Note: I asked this woman’s permission to take her picture and also paid her.

Going back a day to our pre-port briefing, a professor who has worked with the indigenous culture of Guatemala for over 30 years, talked about the culture of bargaining. There is something about rich people that makes them prone to barter with people who are not rich as a form of entertainment. A sense of pride happens when you get the handmade scarf down from $15 to $10, when the average Guatemalan makes less than $5,000 a year. The professor said it was okay to bargain, but then leveled with us. She said, “All of you can afford this trip. Therefore, if someone asks you to pay $15 for a scarf, if you have $15, GIVE IT TO THEM. Those five dollars mean much more to them then it does to you!”

Back on the boat, a Guatemalan girl of about 14 was trying to get $12 for a scarf and a Australian woman from our group told her she only had $10. She even opened up her wallet so the girl could see she only had a $10 bill. The girl ended up conceding and when she left the boat, the Australian woman opened up a second zipper of her wallet and $20 and $50 bills were literally spilled out of it. She was absolutely delighted that she was able to get away with such a “deal.”

The frantic selling continued until the oblivious couple returned and we headed back across the lake, to the safety of our buses. While on the way, I noticed a HUGE, American-style home on the side of the lake. I asked our guide, and he said much of the land is being purchased by American, Canadians, and Europeans for vacation homes since building materials, labor costs, and property taxes are next to nothing in Guatemala. As a result, the indigenous people of the lake are being forced to turn to tourism as a way to supplement their income, since they didn’t have the same lake access or land for farming.

When we got back to the buses, a minor altercation between passengers broke out because people didn’t sit in the same seats they came in. Meanwhile, 20 feet from us, a family of six was bathing, fully clothed in the lake we just traversed. The pettiness of those on board, especially in contrast to what was happening, quite literally, outside our window make me sick to my stomach.

There is a term we like to us in alternative spring break service trips called “poverty tourism.” This is the idea of rich (often White) people who go to impoverished nations, take pictures of Brown and Black children, buy some local items to feel like they’ve contributed to the local economy and therefore “done their part,” and returned unchanged, unmoved, and unmotivated to dismantle the systems they enjoy in order to impact the communities they just visited. By participating in tourism of developing nations versus traveling through them, having conversations and interactions with local people, asking and reflecting on how places could have such disparity, only a few thousand miles away from their home, tourists at best miss the point, and at worse, perpetuate the established system of inequality, privilege, and oppression.

The main lesson from Guatemala? Be a traveler. Experience the world, don’t just see it. And run, kicking and screaming, from any experience that caterers to tourists.

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Pura Vida! The Pure Life in Costa Rica

Author’s Note: I recently returned from the voyage of a lifetime. Along with my good friend and colleague Galina, we sailed with the Winter Enrichment Voyage through Semester at Sea.This combines travel, adventure, workshop speakers, relaxation, and more. Enrichment Voyages are billed as “Trips for intelligent people who like to have fun.” We traveled to eight countries, two oceans, two continents, experienced Christmas and New Year’s Eve with the Pacific breeze in our hair, and basically had the time of our lives! I blogged along the way while on board, but due to limited Internet connection, I’m posting them now so follow along and enjoy!

I have been looking forward to Costa Rica more than any other country on the trip. I’ve heard it is beautiful, inspiring, and I can now say that those words don’t do this country justice. As the most politically and economically stable country in Central America, Costa Rica enjoys a democratic government, amazing tourism industry, and almost 25% of the country has been categorized as national parks. The country realized decades ago that there was power in maintaining the natural wonder of the country, so it has been on the forefront of becoming a green, eco-friendly environment. Additionally, the have completely done away with their military (yep, you read that right, NO military) and taken all of that money and invested in their educational system instead. They realized that if anyone tried to start something, the US would come to defend them, due to their coffee, banana, and chocolate exports, in addition to sharing a border with the important trade country of Panama. Pretty genius, right?
 
ImageCosta Rican countryside and coffee fields
 
In terms of exploration, I decided to sign up to see the Poas volcano. This volcano is part of the “cloud forest” section of the country. There are dry forests, which is what the majority of the US could be described as, then rain forests, and then, which I did not know, are cloud forests. These are ecosystems that thrive above the elevation where clouds appear. Therefore, we climbed from sea level to over 10,000 feet in about two hours! 
 
ImageOn the hike to the volcano. The Dementors were near!
 
We arrived at the volcano and the difference in climate was immediately clear. First, it was about 30 degrees colder! The weather report called for 95 degrees and sunny, but the middle of the cloud forest was about 60 degrees and a weird cloud haze hung about 10 feet off the ground. It was hard not to think that Dementors were around! We had to walk about half a mile to get to the volcano summit, but it was well worth the wait. Well, it was eventually worth the wait.
 
The tricky part of about being that far above sea level is that you are literally walking through clouds. Therefore, the volcano crater was completely covered with clouds for the first thirty minutes we were there. Our tour guide (who was seriously incredible) kept telling us to be patient, be patient. Then, a swift gust of wind swooped down, and blew away the cloud like the top of a dandelion getting blown away. You could see a lake at the bottom, craggily sides, and mineral deposits from millions of years of volcanic eruptions. The last eruption was in the 1950s, which is nothing in terms of geologic time, so it is very much still an active volcano. We were able to get some pretty incredible pictures, then it was time to head out. 
 
ImageThere’s an active volcano underneath all of these clouds, promise!
 
ImageFinally getting a glimpse of the side of the volcano!
 
The next stop was a small, middle-class town of Sarchi. Sarchi’s claim to fame is an all metal church, designed by the same architects who designed the Eiffel Tower. We did a a loop around the church, then saw the world’s largest ox cart! Ox carts are a huge part of the Costa Rican culture, as they used to be used to transport coffee from one side of the country to the other. They started painting elaborate floral designs because the men were often gone for months at a time and their wives painted unique designs to remind them of home. 
 
ImageWorld’s Largest Oxcart!
 
ImageThe detail was incredible!
 
Once again, we were ushered into a Costa Rican souvenir shop that had pretty much everything under the sun. I did the rest of my Christmas shopping, then we headed back to the ship, seeing the most incredible sunset over the Pacific in the process. It was an incredible day, and I know that I’ll be coming back to Costa Rica to explore sooner rather than later.
 
ImageNot a bad way to end the day in Costa Rica
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All Was Calm, All Was Bright on the Panama Canal

Author’s Note: I recently returned from the voyage of a lifetime. Along with my good friend and colleague Galina, we sailed with the Winter Enrichment Voyage through Semester at Sea.This combines travel, adventure, workshop speakers, relaxation, and more. Enrichment Voyages are billed as “Trips for intelligent people who like to have fun.” We traveled to eight countries, two oceans, two continents, experienced Christmas and New Year’s Eve with the Pacific breeze in our hair, and basically had the time of our lives! I blogged along the way while on board, but due to limited Internet connection, I’m posting them now so follow along and enjoy!

Today, Christmas Eve, I got to check off three very cool things from my Bucket List:

  • Be in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in the same day
  • Traverse the Continental Divide by ship
  • Experience one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World

Today, we traversed the Panama Canal! It was, by far, one of the coolest things I have ever experienced. It took about nine hours, and through a series of dams, locks, man-made lakes, and more, our 900-passenger MV Explorer made it from the Atlantic to the Pacific, across the Continental Divide, and proved that the Canal deserves its spot on the list of modern wonders.

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The start of the Canal! This was the when we were still on the Atlantic, ready to be hoisted up through the locks.

Galina and I woke up early (for us; it’s all relative when you are sailing!) to get a good breakfast in before we started going through the Canal. Since we got a late start out of Cartagena we got bumped in line to go through the Canal. Originally, we were slated to start at 5am, but now we started at 9am and finished around 6pm, which was perfect for a little leisurely wake-up call, plus we ended up in the Pacific just in time for sunset.

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A carefully choreographed routine of train engines on either side of the ship pulling and tug boats pushing from behind helped our ship safely get through the Canal.  

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Sailing under the Bridge of the Americas! 

It seemed like every person on the ship was on deck to see the start of the locks, and with good reason. It’s not every day that you are lifted 20-50 feet by a series of locks and mechanisms that date back 100 years! A set of three locks got us to the lake, and then we had a very slow ride (it is a totally wake-free zone) through the nine-mile, man-made lake until we got to the three sets of locks on the Pacific side. I spent most of the day reading in the Glazier Lounge. This is the faculty lounge on the top deck of the ship and has a 180 degree, glassed-in view. I thought this was the perfect spot as it was shaded, air-conditioned, but still accessible in case I wanted to pop out to take a quick picture.

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Panama is the only country in the world where the sun rises in the West and sets in the East

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After nearly nine hours, we finally made it through and have the Pacific in our sights

The sunset was truly spectacular and the crew opened up Deck Eight, which is usually off-limits so we could get an even better vantage point. After we were on our way through the Pacific to Costa Rica, G and I grabbed dinner, then headed to the Christmas Eve service on the ship.

The service was interdenominational, and hosted by a Unitarian Universalist minister. There was a 40+ person choir and the service ended with a rousing version of The 12 Days of Christmas, which involved motions of each gift (including eight maids a-milking!) and I laughed to the point of tears. The best part of the entire service was when the minister talked about community. She said, in a way, we were all searching through foreign lands during this voyage and what made this possible was the community of travelers. We had, over the past few days, created our own community. We ended the official part of the service with “Silent Night.” The minister asked us to reflect on the lyrics “all was calm, all was bright.”

Since I’m sitting on Deck Five, typing this at 10pm on Christmas Eve with the stars above me, sea beneath me, warm breeze around me, its hard not to be grateful, humbled, and inspired by this unique gift and indeed privilege of travel.  My family never really traveled as I was growing up. My dad was always working his second job at our family farm, and my grandparents had a small place on Lake Erie that was our default vacation. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade summers of suntanning, boating, fishing, firefly catching, adventures to the sand bar, or summer flings for anything, but it wasn’t until I was an adult that I truly traveled.

There is something to be said for being uncomfortable, for struggling to communicate or for getting lost in an unfamiliar city. There’s something to be said for being plopped down next to total strangers every night at dinner and making conversation for two hours. There’s something to be said for making decisions from your heart and not your bank account. For leaving port and learning to sail as you go. Although the voyage is only half-over, I’ve already learned to trust that part of my head and heart that says, “This is probably not the most practical option which is EXACTLY why you need to do it.”

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Jewels and Affluenza in South America

Author’s Note: I recently returned from the voyage of a lifetime. Along with my good friend and colleague Galina, we sailed with the Winter Enrichment Voyage through Semester at Sea.This combines travel, adventure, workshop speakers, relaxation, and more. Enrichment Voyages are billed as “Trips for intelligent people who like to have fun.” We traveled to eight countries, two oceans, two continents, experienced Christmas and New Year’s Eve with the Pacific breeze in our hair, and basically had the time of our lives! I blogged along the way while on board, but due to limited Internet connection, I’m posting them now so follow along and enjoy!

First time in South America! Whoo-hoo! We pulled into port in Cartagena, Colombia and must say, I was pleasantly surprised. Cartagena is a bustling city on the Caribbean and has a population of around one million. It was occupied by the Spanish, and still has several remnants of that time, including a gorgeous downtown (which reminded me a lot of the French Quarter in New Orleans) and a “Walled City” fort, which is now available for, you guessed it, tours.

ImageView of Cartagena from the ship!

We only had about five hours in Cartagena, so I was excited to meet our tour guide, who was also named Paula and get going. I was signed up for the Emerald Jewelry Making excursion, since I really couldn’t go nearly three weeks without some kind of crafting! We hopped on the bus and only drove about a mile into the city until we were dropped off at the Fundacion Escuela de Joyeria del Caribe. This is a jewelry school in downtown Cartagena which funds scholarships for teenagers and young adults from the developing parts of Cartagena. They train them in various jewelry-making techniques, which is big business in Colombia. After coffee, bananas, and flowers, emeralds are Colombia’s largest export and they are still mining Colombia for emeralds, while veins in other countries have long since dried up.

We were ushered to the instruction room where we were given an introduction to the school and taught about the mission. Then, each of us were paired with a current student who was the “master” while we were the “apprentice.” I met Yazmina, who was 18 years old, and going to school part-time to become a teacher. She was learning how to make jewelry to fund her education. Between her limited English and my limited Spanish, we were able to get along just fine. It was lovely to be able to have a conversation with someone from the place I was visiting, instead of feeling so separated on the bus, through translators, etc. We made a variety of jewelry using raw emeralds and hung out for nearly two hours. I ended up making a ring, pendant, bracelet, and earrings. I ended up buying all of the them and plan to give away some as Christmas presents. It was also nice to know that at least some of my money was going to fund the education of Yazmina and the other students of the school.

ImageSelfie in Colombia with my incredible instructor

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 Started with raw silver and emeralds, and ended up with these beauties 

After we were done making the jewelry, we went to see the walled city, which was left over the colonial days and then headed to an emerald museum. To the surprise of no one, we ushered through a high-end emerald shop on the ground floor. I am not really a jewelry connoisseur, so I had no idea if the prices were good or bad, I just knew they were far too rich for my blood. I was a little perturbed that we were one again asked to purchase items, but then realized that the emerald store completely funds the jewelry store and usually employs the students upon graduation, so it wasn’t simply an easy way to prey on tourists.

ImageWalled City with Colombian flag

I didn’t want to buy anything, so I headed back to the bus where I met a young guy named Hunter. Hunter said he was 22-years-old and from Santa Barbara. He had shagged brown hair, wore purple John Lennon sunglasses, and had an air of privilege to him. Do you ever just meet someone and think to yourself, “I bet you’ve never been told no in your entire life.”? Maybe it’s just my seven years of working at private, very expensive schools, but my privilege radar was beeping like crazy. I didn’t think much of it, until we got back on the ship and they started paging Hunter over the loudspeaker.

A little context before I continue with this ridiculous story. For every port, the passengers had an on-board time and a departure time. It is absolutely essential that you are on-board by the on-board time because we WILL leave you by the departure time. Obviously, some tours may go over by a few minutes, so there is an hour buffer between on-board and departure time. They need to be really strict about this because there are title issues, immigration issues, and a host of other issues that start to occur if we are in port longer than agreed upon with the country in question. Therefore, when you hear someone’s name being paged in between the on-board time and departure time, you know either they aren’t on board, or failed to swipe their ship ID properly at the entrance.

Hunter’s name kept being called. Since he was on my excursion, I knew that we had made it back about 30 minutes before on-board time. Also, the ship was docked in a residential neighborhood, not a bustling marketplace or shopping district, so it’s not like he just lost track of time looking for souvenirs. Here’s what ended up happening, all of which we were told at the beginning of our next pre-port meeting. These meetings are kind of like floor meetings in residence halls in that it is a way for the community to come together before heading out in a new country, learn about customs, traditions, political climate, ideal spots to visit, etc.

Our pre-port after Colombia started with a staff member throwing up a picture of a speed boat. I was a little confused, until the staff started talking about the adventure of Hunter. Apparently, when you fail to make it back by departure time, the Semester at Sea staff leaves your passport with the country’s authorities and convey the message that you either need to find a flight home, or need to meet up with us in our next port of call. In Hunter’s case, he got back just as our ship was leaving the harbor, so the Semester at Sea Captain said he could hire a tug boat to ferry him to the ship, and then he could have to climb aboard using the exterior ladder, usually reserved for pilots who take us through the Panama Canal. Since we were heading to the Canal next, we couldn’t afford to lose our spot in the queue. It would have cost thousands of dollars in fuel costs and penalties to slow down, turn around, and wait for Hunter. According to the staff, the tug boat wasn’t fast enough, so the tug turned around, Hunter rented a speed boat, and then tried to catch up in what, to those on the outside decks, looked very much like a high speed chase! The speed boat was able to catch up and Hunter was brought aboard.

The story would have been over at this point, but Hunter was, in the staff’s description, “overly alert.” His behavior alerted them and they did a thorough search, which resulted in about three grams of COCAINE! In less than two hours, Hunter had ventured into Colombia, purchased cocaine, then chased down the MV Explorer, after nearly 1,000 people had been waiting on him and him alone, for over an hour. The staff then had the choice of turning him over to Colombian authorities, or waiting to turn him over to American authorities when we traversed the Panama Canal. Being kind-hearted people, who didn’t think a 22-year-old white guy would fair too well in a Colombia prison for attempted drug smuggling, so they decided to allow him to stay on board for the night, and then turned him over to U.S. authorities the next day in Colombia. Between the tug boat rent, the speed boat rental, the amount of fuel the Explorer wasted slowing down, then speeding up so he could board, plus flights home, they said he would be charged between $15,000-20,000, much less all of the legal fees when he returned home. Needless to say, most people on the ship thought Hunter was suffering from a near fatal dose of affulenza.

photo(18)View of Cartagena from the ship after I was able to get my butt back before departure!

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Learning to Be Human: A Day in the Dominican Republic!

Author’s Note: I recently returned from the voyage of a lifetime. Along with my good friend and colleague Galina, we sailed with the Winter Enrichment Voyage through Semester at Sea.This combines travel, adventure, workshop speakers, relaxation, and more. Enrichment Voyages are billed as “Trips for intelligent people who like to have fun.” We traveled to eight countries, two oceans, two continents, experienced Christmas and New Year’s Eve with the Pacific breeze in our hair, and basically had the time of our lives! I blogged along the way while on board, but due to limited Internet connection, I’m posting them now so follow along and enjoy!

First true port today!! After two horrible, sickness-filled days at sea, I was never more happy to be on dry land again. G and I both agreed that we had images of kissing the ground once we made port! I was signed up to go on the “Chocolate Lovers Tour” which was billed as seeing the chocolate process from cocoa bean all the way through to the final product.

IMG_0175First port of call: Santo Domingo! This was the view we woke up to this morning.

We started by making port in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. Santo Domingo was “discovered” by Christopher Columbus’ brother. Our tour guide, Paula, stated that the city boasts the first University in the Americas. She also said the minimum wage is about $200 per month, there is an 18% sales tax on everything, but only property tax on property that is $6 million and up. The country has to import nearly everything, so a gallon of gas costs around $6 per gallon. Higher education is affordable from a U.S. perspective, with a college degree costing about $600 total. (Please note: I haven’t fact-checked any of these items as I don’t have Internet connection on the ship, so take all of that with a grain of salt.) Paula had just finished up her college degree and spent a lot of time talking about her experience. My favorite quote from her was “In University, you not only learn your trade, you also learn to be human.”

I found this interesting because we had to go through the less developed portion of the city to get out to the cocoa plantations. It was hard not to notice the threadbare clothing of the occupants, unpaved streets, entire families of five riding on one motorcycle (no helmets for anyone), and the lack of trash removal. I found it to be a big disconnect to be riding around in these air-conditioned busses, some folks dripping in jewelry, and holding cameras that cost more than a year’s salary for the average Dominican. It seemed easy for most people to turn off that human part of themselves when seeing such a disparity of wealth and resources. This was particularly true when Paula talked about the strain on the country’s resources as a result of the earthquake in Haiti. The Dominican Republic estimates nearly 600,000 Haitian refugees have entered the DR and are usually employed in the jobs that Dominicans don’t want to do, like cutting sugar cane or picking coffee. However, there is a lot of anti-Haitian sentiment that Haitians are “stealing” jobs from Dominicans. Sound familiar? Immigration issues aren’t just for the United States.

We slowly winded our way out of the city, into lush landscapes. We knew it was going to be about two hours to the cocoa fields, but then Paula and the driver got into a heated debate in Spanish. Paula went back and forth between talking on her cell phone to what I assumed was the tour operation office and the driver. Apparently, there were two different plantations the tour office uses. The driver thought we were going to one and Paula thought we were going to the other! As a result, we went about 90 minutes in the wrong direction! Yikes! The positive spin I put on it was that we got to see about half of the entire country!

IMG_0191 View of the countryside on the way to the cocoa plantation 

Once we finally got to our destination, we were greeted by the employees of the plantation and offered fresh, hot cocoa. It was about 80 degrees with 70% humidity, but you do not pass up fresh hot chocolate! It was simply incredible, and the thickest, richest I’ve ever had. It put Nestle to shame! After that, we were walked around the different stations of the plantation to see how cocoa beans are planted, matured, grown, and gleaned. It was clear that the entire set-up was made for tourists, with cute, matching signs in Spanish and English and that the real work was done far away from where we were. Since this was my first port excursion, I didn’t really know what to expect, and had hoped for a more authentic experience. However, it was interesting to see the cocoa trees, taste the cocoa at every step of the process and realize that adding milk, sugar, and allowing it to temper really makes a huge difference!

IMG_0207Cocoa fields: I honestly had no idea cocoa grew on trees! 

IMG_0209The beginning of all good chocolate. This pod was filled with slimy white things that contained the cocoa bean. 

IMG_0215Here are the nasty, white, slimy, surprisingly sweet cocoa bean with casing. Think melted mochi, combined with jello.

IMG_0220The white things go here for several days where bugs pick away the white casing and get to the bean. And. it. REEKED.

IMG_0223The beans then go to dry for several days. During the height of the season, this is filled to the top! 

IMG_0235The beans then go through all kinds of processes to shuck, shell, smash, and extrude the oils. It tastes like nasty, bitter paste at this point. And the taste refuses to leave your taste buds. 

IMG_0242This is when the magic happens! The chocolate is tempered, melted, and sugar and/or milk is added. 

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Tasting the chocolate I helped make! It was a much more pure and clear taste than American chocolate. 

We had a delicious lunch of spiced chicken, rice, beans, plantains, and of course, hot chocolate, and then had time in the gift shop. I picked up a bunch of chocolate bars for my student staff with the hope being a chocolate tasting staff devo activity at our first staff meeting. I also got the DR’s version of Nutella, which is made with chocolate and macadamia nuts instead of hazelnuts, plus powdered hot cocoa mix so I could recreate my very own cup during the “cold” nights of Northern California. Next up, South America for the first time in Cartagena, Colombia!!!

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From Heaven to Hell

Author’s Note: I recently returned from the voyage of a lifetime. Along with my good friend and colleague Galina, we sailed with the Winter Enrichment Voyage through Semester at Sea. This combines travel, adventure, workshop speakers, relaxation, and more. Enrichment Voyages are billed as “Trips for intelligent people who like to have fun.” We traveled to eight countries, two oceans, two continents, experienced Christmas and New Year’s Eve with the Pacific breeze in our hair, and basically had the time of our lives! I blogged along the way while on board, but due to limited Internet connection, I’m posting them now so follow along and enjoy!

December 20, 2013

Galina and I decided to explore Nassau on Wednesday. Since we got there a day early, we were still waiting on most of the passengers to board, which basically meant we had until 3pm to be tourists. We walked through the old, colonial part of the city, but at this point, it resembled more of a tourist attraction than historic monuments. It had kind of a Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco or Hollywood and Highland in Los Angeles feel to it.

We eventually found a spot of beach (Junkaroo Beach, to be exact) and were awestruck by the sand, surf, and sea. The sand was the consistency of brown sugar, but nearly white in color. The ocean was such an intense, aquamarine hue that it was hard to describe, and much less take in. G and I walked until we couldn’t walk any more. Walking with your toes in the sand as the waves lap at your heels was quite a difference, compared to the high 40s of NorCal! On our way back, G decided to have her hair braided. She has the thickest, most gorgeous hair in the world, but it also requires an incredible amount of care and upkeep. She had it braided while sitting on the beach, and I was happy to sit next to her, dig my toes into the sand, and simply take it all in with a sense of purpose and gratitude. You don’t need any music or Internet or conversation when this was your view!

IMG_0137Not a care in the world! 

After her hair was done and I had had my fill of the slow life, we made our way back to town and realized we needed food ASAP and a drink wouldn’t hurt either. We ducked into a little bar and grill, had a sufficient meal, a great rum punch, and for the first time in days, WiFi! We quickly updated Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, texted our families (with a fabulous service the operates on WiFi instead of your cell plan; perfect for international travel!) and then made our way back to the ship.

IMG_0142No better way to spend the day in the Bahamas! 

We went up to the top deck to watch the ship leave Nassau, and soon after that the seasickness started. Let me preface this with saying that I know what seasickness is all about. My family had a cottage on Lake Erie, and I spent more of my summers on a boat that on land. However, Lake Erie has NOTHING on the open sea. Throughout the night and the next morning, I was violently ill and any plans I had of attending workshops, speakers, seminars, or keynotes went quickly out the window. I spent pretty much all day either asleep in bed, or trying to get fresh air on one of the decks and focusing on not hurling overboard. I won’t get into too many details, but it was not pretty. My meals of the day consisted of two small bags of Goldfish crackers and a package of peanut butter crackers. I’m sure some of it had to do with only getting two hours sleep in the 24 preceding hours, plus being four hours ahead of California time, but I was regretting my decision to come on this trip for most of Thursday.

IMG_0164Our first sunset from Deck 7 (before the sickness set in!) 

Friday was our second full day at sea, and I still wasn’t feeling great, but felt a little more adjusted. I spent a few hours getting too much sun (and a wicked sunburn) and attended a fascinating session on what it took to create the Panama Canal, was able to eat my first full dinner, and then Galina and I “enjoyed” a magician/comedian. Let’s just say he was past his prime and it was clear he didn’t want to be there any more than we did. We opted for an early night since tomorrow brings our second port and first excursion in the DOMINICAN REPUBLIC!!!

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A Lot Can Happen in 23 Hours

Author’s Note: I recently returned from the voyage of a lifetime. Along with my good friend and colleague Galina, we sailed with the Winter Enrichment Voyage through Semester at Sea. This combines travel, adventure, workshop speakers, relaxation, and more. Enrichment Voyages are billed as “Trips for intelligent people who like to have fun.” We traveled to eight countries, two oceans, two continents, experienced Christmas and New Year’s Eve with the Pacific breeze in our hair, and basically had the time of our lives! I blogged along the way while on board, but due to limited Internet connection, I’m posting them now so follow along and enjoy! First up, the Bahamas!

December 16, 2013

I am writing this from room 3062 on the MV Explorer, docked in Nassau, Bahamas!!! I can hardly believe it. We started planning this trip five months ago, and it didn’t really hit me until we rounded the corner, saw the incredible aquamarine waters of the Caribbean and saw one beautiful blue ship in the distance.

Before we got here, we had quite the epic travel journey. We left campus at 7pm yesterday because I’m a crazy person when it comes to travel and need to be there super early. By the way, our flight wasn’t until 11pm! Needless to say, we had plenty of time to spare, so Galina and I kicked off our trip with a cocktail at the bar and a great convo about life. Before we got on the first leg, I had a minor panic attack when I thought I lost my passport. This was my biggest nightmare because everything else can be fairly easily replaced, but the passport is kind of a big deal. I had images of me stuck in Bahamian customs, but it actually just slipped under my chair. First catastrophe solved!

We boarded our jetBlue flight and although it was only four and a half hours from SFO to Fort Lauderdale, it felt like so much more. I can never get comfortable enough to sleep on planes and despite the fact that I packed my down pillow into a SpaceSaver bag, I only got about 45 minutes sleep. We touched down at 7am EST in Fort Lauderdale and then became the longest layover of my life. I would not wish five hours in the Fort Lauderdale airport on anyone! We boarded around 1pm and 25 minutes later we were in the Bahamas! The moment you stepped onto the gangway you could feel the change in the temperature, which was made even more evident because Galina had on a puffy down vest, scarf, and wool hat due to the plane temps. We breezed through Customs, easily got a cab, and then were on our way!

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View of the Bahamas from the plane

We ended up waiting to board for about 45 minutes. During this time we were in line with everyone else who was waiting to board and Galina and I soon realized that the average age of an Enrichment Voyager was approximately 65 years young. We knew that many Semester at Sea alumni come back with their families, or during their retirement, but it honestly felt like we were dumped in the middle of a senior citizen home. To be fair, we both desperately needed a shower, nap, and meal, but there were several moments where I wondered what the hell I had gotten myself into.

Before we knew it, we had cleared Customs (again), handed over our passports to the SAS staff (which was slightly terrifying!) and then stepped on board!!! We had to get some paperwork out of the way, and in the process got to see a good portion of the ship. It was like an out of body experience to be on board after seeing so many pictures, videos and hearing stories from so many of my friends and colleagues around the country who have sailed with SAS. The only way to describe my feeling would be giddy.

ImageI could hardly believe I was actually standing in front of the MV Explorer! Home away from home for the next 17 days.

We went to the Aquamarine Dining Room, which was a sit-down, beautifully decorated area at the back of the ship. They seat you like most cruise lines, so we shared a meal with Jonnie, a fabulous retired teacher from Richmond, California (what up, NorCal!), plus Joan and Nick, a couple from Boston who are both international business professors at Assumption College. It was a table full of educators!

To be completely honest, both G and I were not looking forward to dinner with total strangers, who were 30 years our senior, but we shared a lovely meal together, and great conversation to boot! We covered the educational system, the RLC system at Santa Clara, and spent a good amount of time talking about the impact of the new Jesuit Pope! It was actually an incredible time and G and I learned a good lesson about expectations and connection. Plus, the dinner of tomato basil bisque, pepper-cured sirloin, and apple streusel didn’t hurt! After dinner G and I explored the ship a little more, unpacked our incredibly overpacked suitcases and then called it a night. We have been on the go for nearly 24 hours and deserve every moment of sleep we’re about to enjoy.

Tomorrow is the actual day of arrival (Galina arranged us an early arrival, for free!) so the majority of the ship will come aboard throughout the day tomorrow. Our plans are to explore Nassau, find a beach, and just take it easy. Our days in port are absolutely packed and the days at sea are full of workshops, seminars, and craft instruction(!), so we both decided to allow our bodies and minds to relax.

All in all, it was a good day. No, a GREAT day.

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